Eleanor Roosevelt on Happiness, Conformity, and Integrity

Thoughts from Eleanor Roosevelt:

Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively. After a short time, a very short time, there would be little that one really enjoyed. For what keeps our interest in life and makes us look forward to tomorrow is giving pleasure to other people.

It is easy to slip into self-absorption and it is equally fatal. When one becomes absorbed in himself, in his health, in his personal problems, or in the small details of daily living, he is, at the same time losing interest in other people; worse, he is losing his ties to life. From that it is an easy step to losing interest in the world and in life itself. That is the beginning of death.

I have always liked Don Quixote’s comment, ‘Until death it is all life.’

Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: ‘A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.’

But there is another basic requirement, and I can’t understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.

It’s your life — but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.

via Eleanor Roosevelt on Happiness, Conformity, and Integrity | Brain Pickings.

My New Book: Value Driven Leadership

I am happy to announce the publication of my second e-book: Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation at Amazon.com 

You may not be interested in leadership and organizations or in a more than 20-year-old story but stick with me for a moment.

Some times in life we have an unexpected experience that dramatically alters the trajectory of our life forever.

This book is about one of those experiences in my life.

I didn’t set out to be a change agent at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. I needed a job. On my first day, the union steward told me what the rules were: dress down, cheat on expenses and overtime, and don’t make other union guys look bad.

I wasn’t going to conform to mediocrity or let someone else decide the course of my life. I set out to change the place. About 15 years later, a vice president told me that I was making others mad by leading change in the culture of the company. I continued to do what I was doing.

In between those sickening moments, I led change in the work, culture, and performance of the company through nine promotions and steps on the organizational chart.

Sometimes people come together and create something special and when that happens, it is mystical.

Challenged by a Teamster’s Union organizing effort and revenue shortfalls in the newspaper industry, we had to cut millions of dollars from the budget and defeat the union. We decided to do something different. We defined Value Driven Leadership for ourselves and choose to live true to our values. We created a vision for our work lives. We got everyone involved. We made sure everyone felt valued, involved, and informed.

Fifteen months later, we were a national success story. We melded employee engagement with values and respect for people and brought forth phenomenal business results. Business guru, Tom Peters, wrote about us. We spoke at conferences around the country. People came to visit and see our work. The CEO said out work would change the company forever. Of course there was a dark side to all of this, and I write about that too.

While we did this ground-breaking work, the newspaper industry sat on the edge of a precipice that threatened its very life: The Internet and its impending impact on newspaper readership and advertising revenue.

Soon the industry was in a free-fall decline. The Star Tribune went bankrupt. What happened to our industry-leading work that might help renew an industry?

You may not be interested in leadership, organizations, or newspapers. This story is about much more than those things: the newspaper setting is only the container for a larger story about how life works and can work in all aspects of our lives if we pay attention and learn about the deeper dynamics of life and how to utilize those underlying forces to create a high-energy life filled with aliveness.

My first e-book, Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership tells the story of how my life changed based on the experiences in my new book.

I’d be grateful if you would help me spread the word. Thanks!

Life as Art: Purpose

Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. Victor Frankl

I wrote about vision in Life as Art: Vision and about values in Life as Art: Values. During the two years I prepared myself to leave the corporate world, I thought and studied much about vision and values. I also pondered deeply my purpose for my life.

Purpose is our deepest reason for existence. Our purpose is our most profound expression of our most basic intent as spiritual beings. Purpose reflects our deepest essence and provides a consistency of intention as our lives unfold.

Purpose goes beyond the call to the right livelihood. Purpose guides the spiritual journey of the hero, and the return of the hero to serve humanity—self affirmation AND commitments beyond the self. When we live our purpose we make our unique contribution to humanity and our lives have meaning. I don’t know whether purpose is genetic, learned, God-given, or a mix of all three. I just know that purpose exists. We make the choice to live or refuse our purpose.

I experienced the might of ethics, excellence, and commitment as a young Secret Service Agent. I felt the power of love, connection, and authenticity as a lost soul at St. Mary’s Hospital. I discovered the energy of the human spirit and human potential in the change effort I led at the Star Tribune newspaper.

Melded with these awakenings, I felt beckoned to be more. I was curious and felt attracted to see and experience something more encompassing — a grander dimension of life. Feeling called to leave the corporate world, I wanted to learn how to live well in a world in constant flux and to live from an organic worldview that superseded and encompassed the mechanistic view of life I had grown up with. I wanted to live with more authenticity in all areas of my life, and I wanted to take the “hero’s journey” Joseph Campbell wrote about in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I wanted to see if the dynamics Campbell wrote about were real, and I wanted to see what I might become. I wanted to feel alive and to learn how to experience aliveness more of the time. I wanted to share my experiences with others. I would be my own learning laboratory. I was not a wealthy man with a flush wallet seeking a safe adventure into trendy spirituality. This was serious work about the nature of life itself—with my life as the experiment.  What an exciting and frightening prospect that was.

I worked hard and thought deeply on my fundamental purpose in life and came up with this:

To live my life as a series of mental, spiritual, and emotional adventures, and to share what I learn with others.

The two years of deliberate preparation was important because the sense of purpose gained, the values clarified, and the vision created replaced my fear with the hope, courage, and commitment to go forward on a new path for my life.

I did my study and work on vision, values, and purpose in the early 1990’s and I revisit my inner orientation often. I recommend the experience to all.

Life as Art: Values

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul, is a rare achievement. Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

In 1974 I walked out of an alcohol treatment center after 30 days of tough love, self-examination, and the most profound spiritual experience of my life. I will never forget the painful feedback from the staff, the love and acceptance of my fellow patients, and sharing my sins with a Catholic priest. I had fallen away from and was out of touch with much of what was most important to me during my years of active alcoholism. I got back in touch with myself in treatment, and I knew as I walked into the sunlight that day that my existence depended on an authentic and value-driven life.

Eighteen years later, I again thought deeply about my values. I wrote in Life as Art: Vision of spending two years creating a vision for my life as I prepared to leave the corporate world. I also thought long and hard during those two years about the values that would provide me with strength and guidance as I embarked on a new journey in my life.

My values are the core, internal principles by which I live my life. They distinguish good and bad and right and wrong for me. They are a deep statement of what matters to me.

Values provide my inner compass and are never more important than in the chaotic times in which we live when traditional norms often collapse, political correctness often rules, mediocrity is often the norm, and conformity is widely demanded. My values drive my ethics, my actions, and my search for excellence. Values bring passion, commitment, and perseverance to what I do. I feel alive when I live my values — and I must act on them with purpose for them to be real. My sense of self provides an anchor when I feel buffeted by the waves of constant change.

I sometimes fall short of living true to one of my values. When I do, I strive to acknowledge my imperfection, make my amends, and move on.

We live in difficult times — a time that calls us to live true to our values. I found as a leader in an organization and as a consultant to leaders as well as a citizen that living and standing up for my values is not easy, not painless, not glamorous, and often I must pay a price — sometimes a painful price—for doing so. Being value-driven is easy when the choices are easy — the pressures small. My tests in life come with difficult choices and when the pressures on me are great.

I believe that true and enduring excellence is always value-driven. I worked with true excellence in the U.S. Secret Service many years ago. The men I worked with would give their lives for their fellow agents, for the people they protected, and for justice. They were an inspiration to a young man, they taught me how to be a professional — and they still inspire me today, many years later. My greatest leadership experience in nine management positions over almost 18 years at the Star Tribune newspaper was leading a 4,500 employee business unit that committed itself to value driven leadership and achieved phenomenal business results.

I cannot create a good life, an authentic life, or a spiritual life without deep commitment to the ideals that matter to me.